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Sara MaitlandThe Swans

Sara Maitland

Writers on writing    



The Swans
Writers who inspire me


An introduction: Exploring the silence

I have led a very noisy life. I was born in 1950 and grew up in large, highly articulate family: the six children were close together in age (in 1968 when every newspaper in the country was ranting about the dreadful-ness of teenagers, my parents had five of them.) Unlike the stereotypical British household ours was not one of repression and sulks. There was a great deal of shouting and yelling and door slamming as well as a great deal of affection which mainly expressed itself in competitive banter. Most people find my family in large doses nearly impossible to take – it is unimaginable to most people that any group can talk so loudly, so rudely and all at once and still blatantly love each other.

I went to a girls’ boarding school; the ethos depended on no one ever being allowed to be alone except as a punishment, and where the inevitable din created by 200 female adolescents was amplified by vast rooms without carpets or curtains. I emerged into adulthood at university and threw myself wholeheartedly into the noisy student politics of the late 1960s and thence into the highly verbal giddy days of the early Women’s Liberation Movement. I became a writer, still playing with words, a feminist activist speaking, chanting, protesting and I was a mother living the semi-public life of an Anglican clergyman’s wife, whose home is never her own and seldom peaceful.

About five years ago a whole lot of things changed for me. My children were grown-up and for the first time in my adult life I discovered I was free to do whatever I wanted. Almost to my own surprise (and certainly to the surprise of my mocking friends) I discovered that what I wanted was silence. I became fascinated by silence. I live alone now on a high moor with long views and little disturbance except the endless wind. I try to wrap my days in silence – I have no television, no radio. I walk, watch the clouds, the birds and the seasons. Currently I am writing a non-fiction book that is trying to explore and explain what silence has meant historically and personally. Of course there is something necessarily ironic about writing (making up words) about silence, but it does seem to be creeping into my fictional writing too.